'Grow up,' DA tells Roethlisberger while announcing decision not to prosecute rape case
April 13, 2010 8:00 AM
Ben Roethlisberger reads a statement to the media at the Steelers' South Side facility regarding the events of the day.
By Dan Majors Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. -- Ben Roethlisberger will not face a rape charge in connection with an incident at a Georgia nightclub last month, but that didn't spare him from a nationally televised scolding by the local district attorney who Monday advised the Steelers' quarterback to "grow up."
Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Fredric D. Bright said he would not pursue charges against Mr. Roethlisberger because the allegation, made by a 20-year-old woman after a night of drinking with the quarterback, "cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
"Everybody could be criticized for their actions that night. I'm not condoning what he did," Mr. Bright said. "There was too much drinking going on. If he were my son, [I would say], 'Ben, grow up. Come on, you're supposed to stand for something. I mean, you're a leader, you should be a role model. You don't need to put yourself in this position anymore."
Mr. Roethlisberger acknowledged as much later Monday when he read a statement reiterating that no crime had been committed but apologizing to his family, the Steelers and the team's fans.
The Milledgeville Police Department and several agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation spent more than a month collecting evidence and interviewing scores of witnesses before turning their findings over to Mr. Bright last week. Mr. Bright said the decision not to file charges was his but that the investigating agencies agreed with him.
"We do not prosecute morals," Mr. Bright said. "We prosecute crimes."
Mr. Bright also revealed that the woman -- a student at nearby Georgia College & State University -- her family and her attorney had sent him a letter March 17 saying that they wished to drop the matter because "a criminal trial would be a very intrusive personal experience" and "a public trial would not at all be in her best interest as she goes forward in her life."
Mr. Bright said the woman's wish to drop the matter made his decision "easier," but added, "Had she not taken that position ... I would still be announcing the same result. Based on the evidence here, we don't have enough evidence to prosecute. I know when I have a case, and I know when I don't. And I don't have enough evidence to convince 12 jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Roethlisberger would be guilty of a crime of rape."
Lee Parks, an attorney for the woman, released a statement following Monday's news conference saying, "We are appreciative that our client's request that this matter be closed has been honored by the district attorney. It is our sincere hope that the district attorney's decision will conclude the matter."
Mr. Roethlisberger's Atlanta-based attorney, Ed Garland, issued a brief statement following Mr. Bright's news conference.
"There has been a thorough, thoughtful and sometimes tedious investigation conducted in this matter, both by the prosecution and by the investigators that I employ," he said. "We furnished that information to the district attorney's office and the GBI ... This has been a transparent investigation from law enforcement's side. It has been slow; it has been thoughtful; it has been deliberate and it is resulted in a conclusion that we have said from the very beginning that Ben was not guilty of any criminal conduct."
Mr. Bright used the news conference, his first public statement on the matter, to detail elements of the investigation and to refute some of the misconceptions that surrounded the case.
On the night of March 4, he said, "Mr. Roethlisberger was barhopping with his bodyguards and friends in Milledgeville, attracting a crowd wherever he went. And the victim was barhopping with her sorority sisters.
"Both parties had been drinking alcohol prior to meeting each other. They did not know each other before this evening, but did meet at different bars throughout the course of the night. They participated in conversations, some of a sexual nature."
Sometime after midnight, Mr. Bright said, Mr. Roethlisberger and his group went to Capital City, a popular nightclub with a VIP area in the back, separated from the main bar by a black curtain. The woman and her friends went to the club later and joined Mr. Roethlisberger, who "provided them with shots of alcohol."
"Everyone interviewed agrees that the victim was highly intoxicated," Mr. Bright said.
"One of the bodyguards guided the victim down a back hallway. Mr. Roethlisberger followed her down the hallway into a small bathroom. The issue is what happened in that small, less than 5-foot-wide, single-commode bathroom, between Mr. Roethlisberger and the victim. Significant questions about what occurred persist."
Mr. Bright said one of the problems investigators had pursuing the case was the fact that the woman was intoxicated and that her recollection was unclear. He also said her statements to authorities were inconsistent.
When she first approached a police officer outside the nightclub immediately after the incident, Mr. Bright said, "The police officer asked 'Did he rape you?' And her response was 'No.' Then he asked, 'Did you have sex?' And she said, 'Well, I'm not sure.' "
In a later interview, the woman wrote a statement saying "He had sex with me."
The next day, at the Milledgeville Police Department, she wrote, "I told him it wasn't OK. 'No. We don't need to do this.' And I proceeded to get up and try to leave. I went to the first door I saw, which happened to be a bathroom. He followed me into the bathroom and shut the door behind him. I still said, 'No, this is not OK.' And he then had sex with me. He said, 'It was OK.' "
The police officer later returned to the nightclub and asked Mr. Roethlisberger whether he remembered meeting the woman.
" 'Yeah, I remember her. And I told her she was too drunk to be back here,' " Mr. Bright quoted Mr. Roethlisberger as saying. "And then he said something about he remembered her falling and hitting her head."
At that point, Mr. Bright said, Mr. Roethlisberger declined to answer any other questions without an attorney present. Authorities never interviewed him again in the matter.
Further complicating the case, Mr. Bright said, was the lack of identifiable DNA evidence taken from the alleged victim.
Mr. Bright said that after speaking with police, the woman was taken to Oconee Regional Medical Center in Milledgeville, where she was examined by an emergency room doctor and two nurses. Their medical evaluation of her reported superficial laceration, bruising and slight bleeding in the genital area, but the doctor could not say whether the injuries were from any kind of trauma or sexual assault.
"A standard collection of evidence was conducted, but there was no evidence of semen," Mr. Bright said.
The GBI Crime Lab in Atlanta found human male DNA present, but because the sample was so minute, it would not yield a profile.
"The Crime Lab advised that extracting DNA from Mr. Roethlisberger at this point was futile," Mr. Bright said.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril H. Wecht, however, said he was "puzzled" that authorities knew the DNA came from a human male but could not profile the sample and compare it to genetic material from Mr. Roethlisberger.
"You don't need a lot of material," Dr. Wecht said. "If you have enough to identify material and have enough to identify it as male and you're not able to do a DNA profile -- I'm puzzled. I really am puzzled."
A scientist at Orchid Cellmark Inc., a company that does genetic testing, agreed with Dr. Wecht.
"If a lab is good with their technology, even from very small amounts of DNA, they can get a decent result," said Dr. Rick W. Staub, Orchid Cellmark's forensics laboratory director, scientific operations.
Mr. Bright said investigators viewed surveillance video taken at Capital City that night showing Mr. Roethlisberger and his entourage arriving, followed a short time later by the woman and her friends. But there was no camera in the bathroom or the VIP area, Mr. Bright said, so there was no surveillance that could lend any evidence to the investigation. The fact that the videotapes later were recorded over had "zero relevance" on the case, he said.
He also denied reports that the woman might have been offered money to drop the matter, saying she did not strike him as "a gold-digger," and he said that Mr. Roethlisberger's position as a high-profile athlete had nothing to do with his decision.
"Who Mr. Roethlisberger is made no difference," he said. "If he was Joe Q. Citizen, that was poor and had the local public defender or no lawyer at all, the result would be the same. We have been intent on ensuring that he, like every defendant in our courts, and she, like every victim we serve, receive the benefit of a complete investigation and a fair evaluation."
Mr. Bright said investigators still had not received phone records and text messages from the parties involved, but he could not foresee anything changing his mind.
"I've got enough information," he said. "This decision was not difficult to reach. I knew pretty early on that this was the way this case was going, but I pride myself on keeping an open mind. I wanted to make sure that we made the right decision."
Mr. Roethlisberger still faces a civil lawsuit filed by a 30-year-old Nevada woman who claims he sexually assaulted her in a Lake Tahoe resort hotel while he was there in 2008 for a charity golf outing. Mr. Bright said he was familiar with the Lake Tahoe incident and it was in his file.
"If the [Georgia] case had gone to trial, we would have used that as a prior similar transaction," Mr. Bright said. "But the case is not going to trial."
However, Calvin R.X. Dunlap, the Reno-based attorney for the woman in the Nevada lawsuit, said Monday he had monitored the Georgia case closely and intended to obtain all the reports available from authorities.
"And we look forward to questioning Mr. Roethlisberger about the Georgia incident as part of our case in Nevada," Mr. Dunlap said.
That case has not progressed since last year, when defense attorneys appealed a change-of-venue ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court.